TODAY'S PAPER
Good Evening
Good Evening
Entertainment

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is resurrected in Syosset

Don Dowdell, center, plays the title role in

Don Dowdell, center, plays the title role in "Jesus Christ Superstar" at Cultural Arts Playhouse. Credit: Diane Marmann

To be sure, bringing the story of Jesus Christ to the stage, notes Long Island theater director Danny Amy, has its challenges. “Everyone knows the ending,” he says. “It’s like the Titanic.”

In producing their 1971 rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s tack was to recast the biblical tale from simple scripture ruled by divine providence to dramatic political history. The controversial reading explores Judas Iscariot’s complicated relationship with Jesus and why the disciple chose to betray him, delving into the psyches and ideologies of the characters and the tensions between them. As director Norman Jewison explained of his 1973 film adaptation of the musical drama, “These kids are trying to take Jesus off the stained-glass windows and get him down on the street.”

To a similar end, the 25 cast members of Amy’s production of the rock musical at Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset appear in what could be mistaken for rehearsal attire — hoodies, cargo pants, boots. It is in line with the musical’s efforts to humanize and modernize the Christian savior and his disciples. “Everyone sees Judas as the villain. But the show offers an interpretation in which Judas and Jesus care about each other but are trying to get each other to see their respective views, though they ultimately fail,” says Amy, who plays Judas along with directing the Cultural Arts Playhouse production. “It is more moving than simply seeing them as good guy and bad guy.”

The timing for Cultural Arts’ production coincides with Sunday’s airing of “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” (8 p.m., NBC/4) starring John Legend in the title role, with Sara Bareilles (Mary Magdalene), Brandon Victor Dixon (Judas) and Alice Cooper (King Herod). NBC’s version similarly looks to infuse the Gospel narrative with a more humanistic, modern-day slant. Urban street fashion replaces belted tunics and sandals, and a mosh pit within feet of the Brooklyn armory stage includes the live audience in the performance’s movement.

The Cultural Arts Playhouse show is the seventh time Amy has acted in or directed the rock-opera’s take on the final week of Jesus’ life. With each production, the East Meadow resident says, he discovers something new. Looking beyond the mortal-or-Messiah question, “it’s about how we treat each other, our relationships, that matter.” While the lyrics don’t change, says Amy, the emphasis on certain moments do. “The joy of theater,” he says, “is finding your own way to tell a story.”

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, through April 22 (see website for additional performances), Cultural Arts Playhouse, 170 Michael Dr., Syosset

INFO $24-$38; 516-694-3330, culturalartsplayhouse.com

‘Mamma Mia!’ dances to Smithtown

Dancing Queens won’t want to miss the chance to get their disco on with the monthlong engagement of the gleeful musical “Mamma Mia!” featuring the songs of ABBA. The daughter of a former singer-turned-taverna owner sets out to find which of her mom’s three old flames is her father. Inviting them all to her wedding on an idyllic Mediterranean island, she hopes to learn which man is the one who should be walking her down the aisle. The high-energy hit songs of the popular 1970s group drive the zany plot and the audience’s good time.

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Thursday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St.

INFO $25-$38; 631-724-3700, smithtownpac.org

More Entertainment